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Winter weather has been exceedingly unpredictable lately, and 2023 is shaping up to be no different. For homeowners, sudden dips in temperature or predictions of ice, snow and freezing rain could predict damage to the trees in your landscape. Trees react to winter weather by going dormant, allowing them to acclimate to colder temperatures. In short, they stop growing, and sap, the lifeblood of trees, stops flowing. During this time, the membranes of a tree’s cells become more permeable and flexible, so they are better able to handle the sharp edges of frozen water molecules if those molecules happen to make their way through the cell wall.  

Coniferous trees have many adaptations that help them survive the chill, such as long needles with a smaller surface area to stop snow build-up and control water loss. They also have waxy coatings on the needles that prevent loss of moisture and help keep them from drying out. Some trees even produce proteins that help prevent the formation of ice crystals. However, not every tree will survive a cold snap without damage, so it’s important to know how to treat tree damage from winter storms if it happens. 

What Does Tree Damage Look Like and How Do You Manage It? 

There are several ways winter storms can damage trees. Roots and branches can be cracked by fluctuations in temperatures. Ice and snow accumulation can damage branches, causing breakage and loss. Ice can also cause trees to become brittle and can even crack branches or trunks. 

The accumulated weight from heavy snow and ice can deform or break branches, although it can also insulate the tree if the plant is completely covered. Strong winds from winter storms can dry conifer needles, dry or winter burn branches and roots, break branches, and – in extreme conditions – uproot trees. Tree health can be altered or severely damaged by drying salt sprays, sodium chloride, or other deicers that may be placed on roadways, driveways, and sidewalks and potentially runoff from there. These substances can alter the composition of the soil and cause excessive drying of roots, bark, stems, and needles. 

What Does Winter Storm Damage Look Like? 

Winter storm damage can show up in many ways depending on the storm event, what caused the damage (ice, snow, wind, temperature fluctuations, chemical), and what tree is affected. In general, the following can be signs of tree damage: 

  • Heavy loading, deformed, or hanging branches or stems 
  • Detached or broken branches 
  • Compression cracks on trunks, branches, or stems 
  • Dead, dying, and discolored needles on conifers 
  • Dead, dying, and discolored leaves on deciduous plants in spring 
  • Tree leans or up-heaving of roots 

If you notice any of these signs, you should take care of the issue immediately for safety and the continued health of your trees. 

What Can You Do if You Spot Storm Damage? 

If you suspect a tree is damaged by winter weather, take precautions. Do not walk under the affected tree. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as a hard hat if you go near it to assess the damage. If you can, wait until the snow or ice has melted before turning your attention to the tree. Then, clear any branches that have fallen and remove any broken or detached branches that you can reach from the ground. If your trees are bowed by an accumulation of ice or snow, leave them alone. Do not, however, shake a tree to try and remove snow, as this can break fragile branches or cause further damage. Do not try to melt snow by spraying trees with water, as the water may freeze to ice and cause more problems. Healthy trees will recover in the spring. If you believe the tree is irreparably damaged, you should consult with a certified arborist to discuss your options. 

In early spring, you can consult with a certified arborist to discuss your options for corrective pruning and/or removal of jagged branch parts and broken or detached branches. 

Let Townsend Arborcare Help You Care for Winter-Damaged Trees 

At Townsend Arborcare, we can help you take care of the trees in your landscape that may have been damaged by winter weather — before they become a hazard. If you have trees with large, hanging limbs or cracked branches or trunks, or if they are leaning precariously, call us immediately. We can carefully prune away dangerous, damaged limbs or completely remove a tree that is damaged beyond repair. Our team of tree experts can help correctly determine which of your trees will recover from damage and help assess the best way to nurse them back to vibrant health. 

Don’t let storm-damaged trees cause a problem in your landscape. Contact a Townsend Arborcare consultant and get expert help today. 

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